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Archive for the ‘miscellaneous’ Category

Bobby Womack R.I.P.

bobby womack

I listened to him as a kid and teen, in the late ’60s-early ’70s. His best song—and there is likely a consensus on this—was “Across 110th Street”—which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s great ‘Jackie Brown’, in one of the greatest ever opening movie scenes (watch here).

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Thip Samai, Bangkok

Thip Samai, Bangkok

I just spent several days in Bangkok, an exceptional city that anyone with the inclination to travel should visit at least once in his/her life. For those who do plan a trip there, here are just a couple of recommendations. First, in terms of food, Bangkok may well be the greatest city in the world, as (a) Thai cuisine is arguably *the* world’s greatest and (b) there is no point in recommending restaurants, as the eating experience on the street—at the countless food carts and hole-in-the-wall open-air restaurants, where the food is prepared in front of you—is such that a comparable eating experience will likely be found nowhere else in this world. Bangkok is a daily eating festival. But let me recommend just one restaurant, which, in the estimation of Bangkok Thais—and this has been confirmed—, makes the best Pad Thai in the city. Pad Thai is its specialty. That’s all the restaurant does. The name and address: Thip Samai, 313 Thanon Mahachai, Samranrat, Phra Nakorn (open from 5PM to late). It’s centrally located—not far from the Wat Phra Keao and Khao San Road—but not in an area that tourists are likely to stay, so one will have to take a taxi (a meter taxi, and insist on the meter; don’t bother with tuk-tuks, which are a rip-off; cut-and-paste and hand the taxi driver this: 313 ถ.มหาไชย สำราษราษฎร์ พระนคร กทม). When I arrived at the restaurant last Saturday around 9:30PM, I had to wait in line for almost half an hour to get a table. And I was the only non-Thai, signifying that (a) locals really like it, meaning that it’s definitely a good restaurant and (b) it has, for some curious reason, not made it into the guide books. Fortunately the menu was translated into English. So was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely. Here’s a video (it’s exactly like this).

While I’m at it, I also recommend the riverside restaurants at the Tha Phra Chan pier, just north of the Wat Phra Keao (otherwise, take the ferry from Wang Lang, the nº10 stop on the Chao Phraya river express).

And I will give some free publicity to my hotel, the New Siam Guest House II, which is ideally situated and can’t be beat in terms of value for money.

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My namesake

Wat-Arun

I won’t be posting much over the next couple of weeks—and likely not at all on politics or current events—and I am far away from the banks of the Marne and not following the news comme d’habitude or spending too much time on the Internet. I am presently in the city in which this edifice—that carries my name—is a landmark (the pic is not mine, though I’ve taken a few of my own). As my readers are cosmopolitan and well-traveled in their great majority, most will immediately know where I am ;-)

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slide5

I came across this excellent, must read piece on FB yesterday from the blog of King’s College London political economy professor Alexandre Afonso, in which he discusses and documents how the academic profession—in the US and Europe (and to which one may add US academic institutions in Europe)—is increasingly coming to resemble a drug gang in its structure. Money quote:

So what you have is an increasing number of brilliant PhD graduates arriving every year into the market hoping to secure a permanent position as a professor and enjoying freedom and high salaries, a bit like the rank-and-file drug dealer hoping to become a drug lord. To achieve that, they are ready to forego the income and security that they could have in other areas of employment by accepting insecure working conditions in the hope of securing jobs that are not expanding at the same rate.

The trend is structural, increasingly linked to the insider-outsider, winner-take-all evolution of advanced capitalist societies. Which does not mean, however, that it is a fatality and there’s nothing to be done. Unionization is one response, and which is becoming a trend in American higher education (stateside friends of mine who work with the unions and bemoan their decline may look in this direction for promising growth potential).

In addition to Afonso’s blog post, one may read anthropologist Sarah Kendzior’s AJE tribune from last year on “The closing of American academia,” in which she examines how “the plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.” When undergraduate students speak to me about applying to doctoral programs, I advise them not to consider going for a Ph.D. unless they are fully funded (and with generous living stipend) and get into a top school. If not, forget it. Bad investment.

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On nationalism

I think about nationalism a lot. I hate nationalism. Nationalism—called “patriotism” in America—is a scourge of the modern era. As for nationalists—whatever their nationality—, discussion with them is futile, when not impossible. On the perversity of nationalism, I particularly like this passage by Erich Fromm, from his book The Sane Society (New York: Rinehart & Company, 1955), pp. 57-60.

[W]e find, in the European development, the persistence of…the fixation to blood and soil. Man—freed from the traditional bonds of the medieval community, afraid of the new freedom which transformed him into an isolated atom—escaped into a new idolatry of blood and soil, of which nationalism and racism are the two most evident expressions. (…)

(…) Nationalism, originally a progressive movement, replaced the bonds of feudalism and absolutism. The average man today obtains his sense of identity from his belonging to a nation, rather from his being a “son of man.” His objectivity, that is, his reason is warped by this fixation. He judges the “stranger” with different criteria than the members of his own clan. His feelings toward the stranger are equally warped. Those who are not “familiar” by bonds of blood and soil (expressed by common language, customs, food, songs, etc.) are looked upon with suspicion, and paranoid delusions about them can spring up at the slightest provocation. The incestuous fixation not only poisons the relationship of the individual to the stranger, but to the members of his own clan and to himself. The person who has not freed himself from the ties to blood and soil is not yet fully born as a human being; his capacity for love and reason are crippled; he does not experience himself nor his fellow man in their—and his own—human reality.

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of love for one’s humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.

The idolatrous character of national feeling can be seen in the reaction to the violations of clan symbols, a reaction which is very different from that to the violation of religious or moral symbols. Let us picture a man who takes the flag of his country to a street of one of the cities of the Western world, and tramples on it in view of other people. He would be lucky not to be lynched. Almost everybody would feel a sense of furious indignation, which hardly permits of any objective thought. The man who desecrated the flag would have done something unspeakable; he would have committed a crime which is not one crime among others, but the crime, the one unforgivable and unpardonable. Not quite as drastic, but nevertheless qualitatively the same would be the reaction to a man who says, “I do not love my country,” or, in the case of war, “I do not care for my country’s victory.” Such a sentence is a real sacrilege, and a man saying it becomes a monster, an outlaw in the feelings of his fellow men.

(…) Even if a man should speak disparagingly of God, he would hardly arouse the same feeling of indignation as against the crime, against the sacrilege which is the violation of the symbols of the country. (…)

After the great European Revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries failed to transform “freedom from” into “freedom to,” nationalism and state worship became the symptoms of a regression to incestuous fixation. Only when man succeeds in developing his reason further than he has done so far, only when he can build a world based on human solidarity and justice, only when he can feel rooted in the experience of universal brotherliness, will he have transformed his world into a truly human home.

Brilliant. I have the passage in French translation as well, which I’ll put up at some point.

9780805014020

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Taking it easy

shot_02

I’m presently on vacation here, on the lower right side of the photo (which should be instantly recognizable to those who know their geography), so won’t be posting much over the next couple of weeks, even though there are a number of issues I need to write about (e.g. the headline story in Monday’s Le Monde, on the idiotic, asinine proposal by an organism of the French state to ban the wearing of Islamic headscarfs in universities). Later this month, inshallah.

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Multicultural wordle

I want to give some publicity to this fine new blog on the public square, the tagline of which is ‘Working site on citizenship and multiculturalism issues’. The blog’s animateur is Andrew Griffith, who, in addition to being a personal friend, is a former Canadian civil servant and diplomat, and, most recently in his career, the Director General of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Andrew has worked on these issues for many years and has a book coming out this fall on the subject, and that I will certainly write about.

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